One War­rior rises amid slide

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By STEPHEN TSAI

No doubt, John Estes has spent his foot­ball ca­reer over­com­ing doubts.

“That’s the story of my life,” said Estes, who is coach­ing Hawaii’s of­fen­sive line. “I wasn’t even one of the top five se­nior prospects on my own high school foot­ball team. I came here (to UH as an of­fen­sive line­man) … and no­body thought any­thing of me un­til the pads came on. Same thing at the next level. They used to think I got lucky when I was do­ing so well. But I think be­ing the small­est guy (6 feet 2) at my po­si­tion in the (NFL), I had to sur­vive on tech­nique, in­side hands and smarts. That was one (rea­son) they kept me around, be­cause I could pro­tect the quar­ter­back.”

Last year, he joined the Rain­bow War­riors as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant help­ing of­fen­sive line coach Chris Nae­ole. Af­ter Nae­ole re­signed last week, Estes and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian Smith took over the of­fen­sive line.

For this week’s home­com­ing game against San Jose State, Estes, who was in the coaches’ booth for last Satur­day’s game against Ne­vada, will be coach­ing on the side­line.

“I would like to be closer to (the play­ers) dur­ing the game be­cause I feel like some of the ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar acts would not be al­lowed or tol­er­ated by me,” Estes said. “We’re not there to show up the refs, be­cause when you show up the refs, they’ll get you back in the end.”

Smith, who will call the of­fen­sive plays from the booth, praised Estes’ work.

“John is do­ing re­ally well,” Smith said. “He was do­ing great for us be­fore all this hap­pened. (The ex­panded role) just added more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to him. He’s tak­ing it in stride. I think he’s very well pre­pared. He has good re­la­tion­ships with that group of play­ers. We’re happy with the job he’s do­ing right now.”

For now, Estes will re­tain his sta­tus as a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant, which will al­low him to con­tinue tak­ing classes.

“The master’s (de­gree) is im­por­tant to John,” head coach Nick Rolovich said. “He’s voiced that to me. This is an op­por­tu­nity for him not only to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion (but) to see if he wants to jump into the coach­ing world.”

Smith said: “There’s not a lot of guys in their first few years of coach­ing who get to run their own meet­ings, like he’s do­ing, han­dle in­di­vid­ual (ses­sions) on their own, and plan their own drills. He’s re­ally get­ting a great ex­pe­ri­ence through this whole process.”

Estes said he draws from sev­eral role mod­els — his brother Pa­trick; his fa­ther Ron­ald, who was a school su­per­in­ten­dent for 20 years; un­cle Rockne Fre­itas, a for­mer NFL line­man and UH ad­min­is­tra­tor, and his coaches at UH and the NFL. Andy Heck, who was the Jack­sonville Jaguars’ of­fen­sive line coach, taught Estes and Nae­ole.

“It was an easy tran­si­tion for me to walk into that (of­fen­sive line) room last year be­cause me and coach Nae­ole spoke the same lan­guage,” Estes said. “It was seam­less.”

Right guard J.R. Hens­ley said: “I’ve been preach­ing this and I’ll say it again and again: We re­spect the heck out of Coach Estes. We’re go­ing to rally around him no mat­ter what. Ev­ery day, we’re go­ing to show up with our work boots on be­cause we love that man. He’s been with us since the be­gin­ning. He’s go­ing to do what’s best for us. He played O-line here at UH. He’s con­sis­tent ev­ery day. He’s very knowl­edge­able. It’s pretty easy ral­ly­ing around him.”

Estes of­fered en­cour­age­ment to the line.

“I come to work ex­cited to teach a group that is block­ing for the third-lead­ing rusher (Dio­cemy Saint Juste) in the coun­try,” Estes said. “That’s some­thing to be proud of. I told the guys, that’s some­thing to hang your hat on. Not ev­ery­one can do that.”

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